The daughter of Times-Picayune columnist and Louisiana State University professor Robert Mann started college last week at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Mann had to drop off more on campus than his daughter. He also had to leave behind a load of cash for textbooks.
Mann tweeted, “Paid today for my freshman daughter’s textbooks at @lsu. $700 for one semester. She was stunned. I was stunned. How do faculty and admin allow these publishers to shake down students like this??”
To put that into perspective, the poverty line for a family of three in 2018 is $20,780, according to federal guidelines. Assuming textbooks at LSU cost the same the next semester, that $1,400 a year represents nearly 7 percent of a poor family’s annual income.
Families can’t eat textbooks. And they can’t afford them either.
“You’re already paying thousands of dollars to get into school; you shouldn’t have to pay ridiculous amounts to actually do it,” said D’vasha Hodges, 19, a sophomore nursing student at Bradley University in Illinois who has paid, in some cases, $300 for a required text that she wouldn’t have been able to afford without financial aid. “Some professors expect you to have your books on the first day of class, but if your financial aid hasn’t gone completely through, you have to wait.”
Books, which are required by university faculty, are draining financial-aid dollars away from basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. The Wisconsin Hope Lab, a higher-education research group, found in a 2017 study that two in three community college students are food insecure, a term that means “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods.”
And students are not just lacking in food; many part-time and commuting students don’t have a home to go back to. According to a 2015 study from the Wisconsin Hope Lab and a 2016 report by a group of nonprofits working on hunger and homelessness issues, an average of 13 percent of community-college students are homeless. Half of the community-college students surveyed in both studies were housing insecure, which refers to the inability to pay rent or utilities, or having to move frequently.